In all my years as an actor, I had never been me
Some actors, if they are very lucky, get to play a role that makes them a household name. A lucky few get to play two. Jon Pertwee was one of the second group.
In 1970, the striking white haired actor was cast as the third actor to play Doctor Who. He was, amongst other things, the first TV incarnation of the Doctor to appear in colour.
Patrick Troughton, Jon’s immediate predecessor in the Tardis, had been known as a straight actor who had largely played the Doctor for laughs. Jon, in contrast, was then already widely known as a comic actor: he had appeared in the popular radio comedy show, The Navy Lark for 18 years and had very nearly been cast as Captain Mainwaring in Dad’s Army, a role which eventually went to Arthur Lowe. But Jon opted to play the Doctor deadly straight. He may have looked like an Edwardian dandy, but Jon’s Doctor was a serious action hero battling aliens, mostly on Earth.
Jon hung up his sonic screwdriver in 1974. His second great role, that of Worzel Gummidge, a scarecrow with a disconcerting ability to detach and reattach his own head (in fact, he had several), began in 1979. Pertwee had always loved doing silly voices. As Worzel in the series which ran until 1989 and is set for a reboot starring MacKenzie Crook, he did many.
He also fronted a 1976 children’s road safety information advert, which has achieved almost cult status today, thanks to its incomprenhensible catchphrase – SPLINK! – which was intended to remind youngsters how to cross the street with care.
Jon, whose son is the actor, Sean Pertwee, played many other roles in his time but it is a fitting tribute that more than forty years on, he is still considered one of the all-time greatest Doctor Whos.